Friday, September 29, 2006

[Bizarro World]

Like Rats from a Stinking Ship

Recall how all those who supported Bush's trigger-happy boobishness were regarded as "muscular realists"? Well, ever more of them spring away from their past (Powell, Freidman, Kerry). The latest? His Highness Bob Woodward:
The book is the third that Woodward, an assistant managing editor at The Washington Post, has written on the Bush administration since the terrorist attacks of September, 11, 2001. The first two were attacked by critics of the Bush administration as depicting the president in a heroic light. But the new book's title, "State of Denial," conveys the different picture that Woodward paints of the Bush administration since the invasion of Iraq in March, 2003.
The Times picks up the thread:
As late as November 2003, Mr. Bush is quoted as saying of the situation in Iraq: “I don’t want anyone in the cabinet to say it is an insurgency. I don’t think we are there yet.”

Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld is described as disengaged from the nuts-and-bolts of occupying and reconstructing Iraq — a task that was initially supposed to be under the direction of the Pentagon — and so hostile toward Condoleezza Rice, then the national security adviser, that President Bush had to tell him to return her phone calls. The American commander for the Middle East, Gen. John P. Abizaid, is reported to have told visitors to his headquarters in Qatar in the fall of 2005 that “Rumsfeld doesn’t have any credibility anymore” to make a public case for the American strategy for victory in Iraq.
How many serious people lost their credibility when they abondoned their minds and signed on with wee Dubya?

Thursday, September 28, 2006

[Geneva Conventions]

King George's Writ of Torture.

Today Senate Republicans, with probably the support of a few scared Dems, will approve Bush's writ of torture. There is no way to stop the legislation or the GOP's election-year profiteering off it--Defeatocrats and US soldiers alike will lose. Nevertheless, there are reasons why this will backfire catastrophically, and I'd at least like to go on record as having stood against the bill.

Moral Failures
King George lives in a future of his own making, where laws can be subverted by executive might and legislative collusion, obviating legal debates. But the greatest failure of this legislation is a moral one: no state has the right, by law or God, to torture a human being. Civilized people understood this and codified their agreement in the Geneva Conventions.

The cliches here are many, so I'll skip to the most cliched, and sadly, the most accurate. On 9/11, many Americans pledged that the "terrorists would not defeat us." So long as the US maintained its fidelity to the constitution, laws, and moral compass, we could not be defeated, no matter how many times deranged terrorists blew up our cities. But the moment we sacrificed our laws, sold our citizens down the river (see "legal failures" below), and adopted the methods of the terrorists, we were defeated. With his writ of torture, King George has accomplished what no terrorist could.

Strategic Failures
It is widely recognized that torture is at best inefficient. For every piece of actual information you get, you get a lot of misinformation. But of course, there's that one-in-a-million case where the US actually detains a real terrorist with real information about a real, imminent attack, and in this hypothetical case--incessantly promoted by Bush--panicked Americans say: "Put the dogs on the bastard."

This is a doubly fake hypothesis. First, the likelihood of it arising is camel-through-the-eye-of-a-needle remote (I'm as likely to win the Nobel in literature). But it also assumes that the value of the misinformation is nil--garbage into the dustbin of intelligence. But we already know how dangerous false information is. We wouldn't be in Iraq except for the justifications offered by CIA misinformation. So it's far from nil. More likely, the US will become a titanic dog chasing its military-industrial tail around the Middle East, indiscriminately killing Muslims and ginning up anti-US hatred.

Let us not ignore the danger torturing detainees puts our soldiers in. Military leaders--former generals serving under Bush, Colin Powell, John McCain, et. al.--oppose torture for exactly this reason. The authors of the writ of torture (the bulk of whom have never served) ask: but won't Hezbollah torture us, anyway? Sane generals respond: we have military personnel scattered across the globe, and will fight wars for decades hence. We fight more than terrorists; reinterpret Geneva, and every unstable government in the world reinterprets Geneva.

Legal Failures
I have no confidence that Smilin' Sam Alito and Pretty Boy Roberts will overturn this law and stay Executive over-reach, but the rest of the law-abiding world is not so well-funded by GOP donors--nor as sanguine about the goodwill of CIA "interregators." As a matter of established US law--not to say our judicial activists aren't about to re-establish things--this legislation is, well, call it "rogue." As the Times details:
  • Habeas Corpus: Detainees in U.S. military prisons would lose the basic right to challenge their imprisonment.
  • Judicial Review: The courts would have no power to review any aspect of this new system, except verdicts by military tribunals. The bill would limit appeals and bar legal actions based on the Geneva Conventions, directly or indirectly. All Mr. Bush would have to do to lock anyone up forever is to declare him an illegal combatant and not have a trial.
  • Coerced Evidence: Coerced evidence would be permissible if a judge considered it reliable ... and relevant. Coercion is defined in a way that exempts anything done before the passage of the 2005 Detainee Treatment Act, and anything else Mr. Bush chooses.
  • Secret Evidence: American standards of justice prohibit evidence and testimony that is kept secret from the defendant, whether the accused is a corporate executive or a mass murderer. But the bill as redrafted by Mr. Cheney seems to weaken protections against such evidence.
  • Offenses: The definition of torture is unacceptably narrow, a virtual reprise of the deeply cynical memos the administration produced after 9/11. Rape and sexual assault are defined in a retrograde way that covers only forced or coerced activity, and not other forms of nonconsensual sex. The bill would effectively eliminate the idea of rape as torture.
Most of our lives won't change much day to day. We'll still buy our Stumptown coffee (what do you call it outside Portland--Star-something?) and chat about the Seahawks. We'll go to work and pick our kids up from school and watch Lost on Wednesday nights. But with this legislation, things change on a seismic level deep beneath our feet--and profoundly. The Senate, in endorsing this law, signs away rights to the President neither he nor they have to give. They weaken the Constitution and the foundation of law, and cede power to the President the founders tried dearly to prevent. Today's vote, despite appearances, looks like something other than democracy in action. Poor Thomas Jefferson spins in his grave.

Put the flag at half-mast; it's a dark day in America today.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

[Terrorism, Iraq]

What The NIE Does and Doesn't Tells Us.

A classified National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) prepared in April apparently argues that Iraq has made the US more vulnerable to terrorist attacks, putting it in alignment with most foreign policy conventional wisdom outside the nitrous-oxide filled rooms of the West Wing. In response, the White House yesterday released a carefully parsed edit (.pdf) of the document that--surprise!--hits on all the major Bush talking points. To wit:
  1. Terrorism is still a major danger, and forms a diffuse cloud of doom from which we should cower;
  2. Iraq may have made things temporarily worse, but the glorious flowering of democracy there would sap the evildoers' will;
  3. Iran is a grave and gathering threat.
It is a political document having nothing to do with national security facts. We know this because we know that Bush has carefully and uniformly politicized every shred of intelligence that supports his policies and buried any that don't. Not only does Bush not get the benefit of the doubt, but he gets the confidence of our mistrust. No doubt the actual NIE has a lot more to say, a lot of which wouldn't be good for voters to hear six weeks before an election.

As the Times' David Sanger points out, even this rosiest of parsing fails the Rummy Test, which asks " Is Washington’s strategy successfully killing or capturing terrorists faster than new enemies are being created?"

In the Post, Karen DeYoung and Walter Pincus find other failures.
Instead, while it [the NIE] notes that counterterrorism efforts have seriously damaged and disrupted al-Qaeda's leadership, it describes the spreading "global jihadist movement" as fueled largely by forces that al-Qaeda exploits but is not actively directing. They include Iraq, corrupt and unjust governments in Muslim-majority countries, and "pervasive anti-U.S. sentiment among most Muslims."
In that Post piece, the writers spit back White House spin that the released documents represent almost all of the findings text of the document, but in an editorial, the Times disagrees, pretty much summing up what all good and true Americans should believe when they see this propaganda:

It’s obvious why Mr. Bush did not want this report out, and why it is taking so long for the intelligence agencies to complete another report, solely on Iraq, that was requested by Congress in late July. It’s not credible that more time is needed to do the job. In 2002, the intelligence agencies completed a report on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction in less time. Mr. Bush also made selected passages of that report public to buttress his arguments for war with Iraq, most of which proved to be based on fairy tales.

Then, Mr. Bush wanted Americans to focus on how dangerous Saddam Hussein was, and not on the obvious consequences of starting a war in the Middle East. Now, he wants voters to focus on how dangerous the world is, and not on his utter lack of ideas for what to do about it.

Yup, 'bout sums it up. Vote GOP in '06!

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

[Media, Politics]

The Fox Interview of Bill Clinton.

While I was in Maine (very lovely time, thanks), Bill Clinton made a remarkable appearance on Fox News. It may well pass as a blip on the national consciousness and we may well go back to politics as usual. But for the first time in the Karl Rove era, something new happened. Fox had Clinton on ostensibly to discuss his new Clinton Global Initiative. It was slated to be a 15-minute interview, and Chris Wallace began with a couple of random warm-up questions unrelated to the CGI. Then, without addressing the CGI, at the 3:40 mark, Wallace asked:
When we announced that you were going to be on FOX News Sunday, I got a lot of email from viewers, and I’ve got to say, I was surprised most of them wanted me to ask you this question: Why didn’t you do more to put Bin Laden and al Qaeda out of business when you were President? There’s a new book out which I suspect you’ve read called The Looming Tower. And it talks about how the fact that when you pulled troops out of Somalia in 1993, Bin Laden said, "I have seen the frailty and the weakness and the cowardice of US troops." Then there was the bombing of the embassies in Africa and the attack on the USS Cole... And after the attack, the book says Bin Laden separated his leaders because he expected an attack and there was no response. I understand that hindsight is 20/20 ... but the question is why didn’t you do more? Connect the dots and put them out of business?
It was a characteristically bullshit question from Fox. Had this not been a sandbag job, had Wallace, like his father [Mike Wallace], been a real journalist, the question would not have had a solely political frame. Instead, he might have asked, "Looking back at your tenure in office, and knowing now what you know about 9/11, what would you have done differently if you could go back in time to, say, 1998." That's a real question. It is, pardon the cliche, fair and balanced.

But Wallace asked the quintessentially unfair question--the classic "have you stopped beating your wife" question--which damns the interview subject to moral failings even before he's spoken, and then asks him to defend himself.

Except for Howard Dean, on rare occassions (that comparison is intentional, as we'll see in a moment), we have yet to see anyone throw the whole steaming pile of bullshit back in the face of the smug questioner. And in failing to do so, by complicity, the Dems have endorsed the question. We have become a party of wifebeaters because we've agreed to the terms of the debate. But Clinton did not.

I'll put in a couple of clips, so you can watch for yourself. Since the debate, Fox has gone on a furious campaign to demonize the President. Wallace appeared even before the interview was aired to attempt some damage control--he ridiculed Clinton as unhinged--and has taken an identical approach that they took with Dean: Clinton's angry and insane. This is the choice Fox wants to give you--admit that you're still beating your wife, or accept that you're a deranged lunatic if you don't accept the terms of the question.

People who watched the interview will be the judge, however. And I hope that this is a lesson the Dems will absorb: fight the hell back.

Part 1

Part 2

Thursday, September 21, 2006


Gone For the Weekend.

Back on Monday. Headed to Maine.

That is all.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006


I Still Don't Believe It, But...

Evidence grows that Americans' dim consciousness of reality may be penetrating their tribal allegiances to the GOP:
With the midterm elections less than seven weeks away, Americans have an overwhelmingly negative view of the Republican-controlled Congress, with substantial majorities saying that they disapprove of the job it is doing and that its members do not deserve reelection, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll.

The disregard for Congress is the most intense it has been since 1994, when Republicans captured 52 seats to end four decades of Democratic control of the House and retook the Senate as well.
Selected findings (.pdf):
Better or worse than you were five years ago?
Better - 18%, Worse - 60%

Approve of President Bush?
Approve - 37%, Disapprove - 56%

Approve of Congress?
Approve - 25%, Disapprove - 61%

Approve of your Congressional Rep?
Approve - 53%*, Disapprove - 29%

If the election were held today, would you vote for a Republican or Dem?
Republican - 35%, Dem - 50% (2006)
Republican - 37%, Dem - 39% (1994)

It makes no difference which party controls Congress:
Agree - 36%, Disagree - 62%

Congress accomplished more or less in 2005 and 2006 than usual?
More - 15%, Less - 64%

Congress deserves re-election?
Yes - 12%, No - 77%

How much say do people like you have in government?
Not much - 62%

Which party will make the right decisions about Iraq?
GOP - 37%, Dems - 42%
One other interesting finding: Sometimes justified to torture or never? Sometimes 35%, Never 56%.

*Lowest since 1992.

Chavez Calls Bush "The Devil"

At the UN General Assembly today, Hugo Chavez called Bush "the devil."
"The devil came here yesterday," Chavez said, referring to Bush's address on Tuesday and making the sign of the cross. "He came here talking as if he were the owner of the world."

Chavez, who has joined Iran in opposing U.S. influence, accused Washington of "domination, exploitation and pillage of peoples of the world."

"We appeal to the people of the United States and the world to halt this threat, which is like a sword hanging over our head," he said.

A little over-the-top, but amusing.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006


On the Ducks' Win.

Over the weekend, there was a small controversy in the Oregon-Oklahoma game. Small if you live in Oregon--apparently worse than 9/11 if you live in Oklahoma.

Recap: with three minutes left, the Ducks mounted an impressive drive to cut a 13-point lead to six, leaving just 1:12 on the clock. The resulting onside kick was awarded to them despite what was clearly a Duck violation on the play--which officials failed to overturn on review. The Ducks marched down the field, got another bad call on a deflected pass, and scored almost instantly.

Facts: 1) Oklahoma was robbed on the onside kick call. 2) They were robbed again on the deflected pass call, but this benefited them because it allowed more clock for their own drive. 3) Oklahoma led by 13 with three minutes left and couldn't stop the Ducks. 4) Oklahoma gave up 501 yards to the Ducks. 5) Oklahoma had a chance to win, but failed to kick the field goal.

Interpretation: Life is full of bad calls. Neither team is going to win the national championship, so a loss is just a loss. Given the overwrought reaction of Sooner fans (like this one), the Sooners' recent success, and the long suffering of the Ducks, I can no longer rouse much sympathy. We won--live with it.
[Foreign Policy]

Is Islam the Problem?

In the constant process of liberal self-flagellation over the boiling Mideast, a fake dichotomy has come to rule the argument. Why can't liberals admit that Islam is essentially an evil religion, find moral clarity on this fact, and move with the resolve of Republicans to stomp it out? In other words, the only thing wrong with the neocon agenda is that the neocon were the ones doing the stomping. This debate has flourished on an email thread among a group of my friends, spurred by an article by Sam Harris. First, let us get to the pith of his argument:
The same failure of liberalism is evident in Western Europe, where the dogma of multiculturalism has left a secular Europe very slow to address the looming problem of religious extremism among its immigrants. The people who speak most sensibly about the threat that Islam poses to Europe are actually fascists.
The faults of the argument are evident in just these two sentences. "Multiculturalism" is used here as a red herring, a substitute for Harris's critique that liberalism fails to have the moral clarity he desires. He therefore rigs the argument: you're either a clear-eyed moral absolutist or you muck in complexities, but anything other than moral absolutism is wrong. Like Henry Ford said, you can have any color of car you want, so long as it's black. The second fault is the assumption--necessary for clear-eyed absolutists--that the source of violence is religious extremism. Let's not cloud the waters with any other factors: behavior is dictated by a single cause. Very clear. If you accept these two premises, the final argument is obvious--you must, in the clear-eyed manner of our witch-burning forbears--condemn the evildoers. (And probably with the business end of your gun.) Americans have always loved penitence. Everywhere on the right and left, Americans seem to be wanting Muslim penitence so that we may cleanse them of the stain of wrong belief.

Liberals accept this Rovian-packaged deal at their peril. Islam is not the sole cause of violence, any more than Christianity can be blamed as the sole cause for our invasion of Iraq (though surely only the naive will fail to see its contribution). Religion is an accelerant. Bush is using it in the White House like gasoline on the fire of his corporate-military policies, and Muslim leaders are using it throughout the Mideast for their own ends.

I regret that I don't have the time to source the following factors. If I were getting paid to do this thinking, it'd be less hinky. I'm not, so hinky it is. Anyway, here are some of the other reasons the Middle East is destabilized:
  • Oil. For a number of reasons, countries where oil--is the sole or dominant source of GDP are violent and destabilized. It is easy to control oil and support a dictatorship when you control oil revenues. Even Russia, with a large and diverse economy, is seeing the destabilization of rich oil barons.
  • Education. Most of the populations in the Middle East have no access to education or alternative models of reality. One of the reasons Islam is so persuasive is because it has no counter in secular education.
  • Employment. The Middle East has the highest rate of unemployment in the world.
  • Age. The Middle East has a burgeoning population of youth (a third to half the population) who are uneducated, unemployed, and poor, fueling destabilization.
  • Isolation. "Connectivity" that quality of penetration from the outside world, is a corollary to education. Exposed to cultural influences beyond their own world, countries begin to open up, as China has done since the 1990s. Citizens of the Middle East remain disconnected, again, further empowering the voice of radical clerics.
There is nothing intrinsic to Islam that makes it violent. Religions are complex and often contradictory. Evidence abounds that supports violence in the Bible, and it is often cited by radical Christian clerics to foment violence in the US and Europe. Most Christians rightly reject the idea the Christianity is a violent creed, yet it is used as an accelerant by people like John Hagee. To declare Islam a faith of radicalism and violence is to ignore the entirety of the theology. It's possible, but it's wrong.

Finally, there's this: the US bears a large measure of the responsibility for Middle East instability. It has kept our cars full of cheap gas for 50 years. When Iran struggled toward democracy, we stifled it and re-installed the Shah. When Iran and Iraq went to war, rather than take an internationalist approach, we backed one warlord against another. When our warlord invaded Kuwait, we ran him back to his own oil fields. It has been in the interest of the United States to keep citizens of the Middle East poor, uneducated, disconnected, and oppressed.

For liberals to now blame those poor, uneducated, disconnected, and oppressed citizens for radicalizing does them a grave disservice. Worse, acting on the believe that the destabilized Mideast is the result of "Muslim radicalism" will get us more of the idiocy George Bush has been peddling for six years. Islam is an accelerant--it's not the problem.

Monday, September 18, 2006


Rain and Other Phenomena

Oregon shifts into its rainy pattern sometime in September or October, running the sun from the skies. Darkness descends as the days grow shorter. The unmoistened brown grass turns green even while the verdant leaves bronze and flake. I am put in a calm, relaxed, introverted state by these developments and cannot be roused to cough bile over the bumbling of a Pope or machinations of a torture-defending White House or Rove scraping election-year slime.

They will be here for me tomorrow, when I re-emerge from my hole.
[Oregon Politics]

Saxton for Education, Saxton for Governer.

Ron Saxton is a confused Republican candidate for Oregon governor. He doesn't know whether to be a goon for the ultraconservatives or a McCainian "moderate." But, after more than a decade of right-wing assualts on the public coffers, the one issue everyone in the state is concerned about is education. Thus has Saxton made it a hallmark of his campaign. So imagine the mirth of Dems when this little gem arrived in mailboxes:

An education is a terrible thing to waste. (Hat tip Nick Budak/BlueOregon.)

Friday, September 15, 2006


Stop Making Sense.

I committed an act of self-abuse this morning when I failed to turn off the audio on the President's press conference. We have transcended the age of art and entered the age of performance-art-as-reality. Bush, in his absolutist mode, is able to accomplish feats of doublespeak that shock the senses. He appears to be sincere, by which one could say that he appears to be insane.

America, having fallen under the same spell of insanity, somehow continues to nod vacantly at his flickering image. We have forgotten the value of the kinds of truth art provides; we have separated ourselves from the divinity of the abstract. The antidote to this madness is not a better argument--it is the observation of the world through the non-conceptual.

To Bush's madness I offer David Byrne, circa 1984. Breathe the fresh air.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

[Rebel Alliance]

GOP Senators Flip King George the Bird.

This is rather shocking: four Republican Senators roused themselves from their torpor and, like vassals finally asked to kill too many cows, smote their fuedal lord:
A Senate committee, in a bipartisan rebuff to President George W. Bush, approved military tribunal legislation that would give more legal protection to suspected terrorists than the administration wants.

Four of the 13 Republicans on the panel joined the 11 Democrats to pass their version of the measure, rejecting Bush's proposal to bar defendants from seeing classified evidence prosecutors may want to use in court. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell endorsed the Senate approach, warning that the Bush administration is risking the safety of U.S. troops and worldwide opinion by permitting harsh treatment of detainees.
In an even greater affront, the rebuke followed an extremely rare monarchal presidential visit to the Capitol. Oh the indignity! Forced to bow and scrape in front of the peasants -- and do they have the decency to line your route with their grubby little coats? No! They pretend as if you do not make the run rise and fall at your whim. Surely the end times must be near.
[Oregon Gubernatorial Race]

Navel Gazing.

In a somewhat unremarkable post yesterday on BlueOregon (I didn't even bother to repost it here!), I argued that the three minor-party candidates for governor should be included in the three planned debates. (Probably I should have argued that they be included in at least one of the debates, but hindsight ....) Today the Oregonian featured an editorial arguing, not only in points but rough structure, the same thing. I don't blame the O--they suffer for lacking the immediacy of blogs, and my post was not deep insight. But then there's the curious endings to the two pro-debate commentaries. First, mine:
I think it's a great disservice to democracy, and probably one of the reasons politics have gotten so divisive in the first place. So, at the risk of damaging the campaign of the guy I intend to vote for (Ted), I say: let 'em debate.
Now, the O:

At least one prominent Blue Oregon blogger speculates that opening up the debates would hurt the candidate he supports, Kulongoski. At least one prominent Oregon conservative complains that opening up the debates would hurt his candidate, Saxton.

Voters shouldn't care much about that. They should care that they get a real chance to consider the views of all five candidates and make their decisions accordingly.

I believe I'm that "prominent Blue Oregon blogger," and I am in full agreement with the O. So why have they used my post to imply I'm against open debates? Come on, ed board, I don't mind you outlining a position remarkably similar to mine (I assume you would have written the editorial whether I had written mine or not), but at least refrain from making me the straw man.

(And yes, I'm aware not a reader out there will care a whit about this, but I blame the interns. They were all fired up this morning, so what could I do?)

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

[Election 2006]

One Thing About Which Ramesh

Ponuru and I agree: losing power in November is better for the GOP than holding it. (It's better for the Dems, too.)

Ramesh, today:
"And the 2008 elections matter more than the 2006 elections, because, again, the president has more say over foreign policy and the courts than the House does. If Democrats win the House now, the next Republican presidential candidate will be able to run against Nancy Pelosi and the liberal committee chairmen who would suddenly be in the headlines."
Me, in May:
But with both houses of Congress, this inaction will only highlight his futility, whereas with Dems controlling the House, each victory would be amplified. The GOP is a purely predatory party; they're great at swift-boating but piss-poor when it comes to governing... Bush, a champion divider, would do a lot better without a united Congress.
Somehow, I'm not getting op-eds in the Times, though.
[Election 2006]

The (GOP) Fascists Wobble.

Fascism is the word of the day. On the right, you got your Rummies talkin' about defeating the Islamo-fascists. On the left, you got--well, people like me, calling the modern GOP fascist. Bush invokes the fight against fascism in the 40s as a comparison to his virtuous wars; lefties talk about "the Hammer" and the rigging of Congress as modern-day fascism.

Of course, the left has a better argument. Fascism emphasizes a nationalistic militarism and autocratic rule. It is possible to make the argument that Iran, via Ahmadinejad, is akin to fascism, though it is obviously more a garden-variety theocracy. The terrorists, lacking a nation, can hardly be called fascist. On the other hand, nationalism, militarism, and autocracy? Yeah, that fits Hammer and Co. pretty well. But everyone loves to compare and enemy to Hitler, so everyone's a fascist.

We don't have a fascist government, however--not by a long, long shot. Never mind the torture and NSA spying, we still have a pretty functional democracy. It has the flu, but mostly it's functional. How do I know? Because GOP-backed Lincoln Chafee won the Senate primary in Rhode Island yesterday.

He was running against a classic pure Republican, all teeth and no brain, who took every opportunity to slander Chafee with personal invective. He's the kind of guy the GOP have been running since '94, for whom no position is too fantastical, no slur out of bounds. In other words, a perfect match for the GOP. But because he could not win in RI, and because losing Chafee means potentially losing the Senate, the power brokers decided to back the incumbent.

There are, in fact, many GOP politicians who are essentially fascist. They despise democracy and have done their damndest to reduce us to an autocratic state run by the Executive branch which will invade and eviscerate our enemies. They dislike two-party rule, never mind actual citizen democracy. Their crimes are well-documented.

But it's hard to actually seize the government, and we are now seeing how difficult it is to hold it. The support of Chafee demonstrates the dilemma: allow moderates back into the fold who will not back fascist policies, or keep the purity tests in place and lose power. Either way, the fascist wing of the GOP is done.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

[Bush, Media]

Bush-Lauer Interview.

President Bush (rather boldly) joined Matt Lauer last Friday in a segment that was aired yesterday. For some reason, someone in the White House is instructing Bush to do face-to-face interviews standing, as he did recently in the disastrous Brian Williams interview in Louisiana. Like that one, this is nearly unwatchable it's so uncomforatable (which therefore makes it eminently watchable to me), but is quite instructive.

Check the body language of Bush, which suggests a bully who doesn't like being challenged by an insubordinate--a position Bush clearly rarely finds himself in. Have a look.

[9/11, Politics]

The Shorter Bush Speech.

Last night, even as ABC's paid advertisement for the GOP reached a mere handful of viewers, Bush took the big stage to exploit 9/11. The full text of the speech is here, but it's long, predictable, and infuriating. Below is the shorter version.
My fellow Americans, thanks to constant coverage of the last week, you are emotionally distraught as you recall the tragedy of 9/11. I'd like to take advantage of your weak emotional state to scare you more profoundly in the run-up to this fall's elections.

9/11 evil evil evil, courage in the face of evil, firefighters, cops battling evil. Evil killers; evil, evil.

This is the titanic, ideological struggle of the 21st Century and only one monotheistic culture can survive. You should be worried that if you elect Democrats, they'll side with the Islamofascists, as Karl and I have always maintained.

9/11 evil evil evil.

Saddam Hussein, practically a brother to Osama, needed to be taken out, which I boldly did. Behold now, three years later, the glorious garden of peace and democracy your patron has planted for you in the Middle East.

You're either with the troops or against them.

Pulpy paragraph in which I invoke Norman Rockwell America, associate myself with it, and explain how my policies ensure this noble idyll before slagging the Dems and their policies of appeasement that probably were the cause of 9/11. (By the way, there's an ABC docu--they call it a "docudrama," but it's really more accurate than even the facts--an ABC program that describes how Clinton caused 9/11 which I recommend.)

World War II, I'm the modern FDR. Eventually, as in Germany "the clouds of war will part, the appeal of radicalism will decline, and we will leave our children with a better and safer world."*

Exploitative paragraph where I co-opt the valor of a soldier named Patrick, his brother James, who just became a NY firefighter, and his father Kevin, a firefighter who died on 9/11. I'm cool like them.

May God bless those of you who will go to the polls and prevent the Democrats from taking the House and/or Senate.
*Actual quote.

Monday, September 11, 2006


Violence and Other Lessons.

Posted earlier on BlueOregon.

First there was the act, then the politics. And in between, a brief moment of possibility. France's Le Monde captured the mood most iconically in its headline "We are all Americans." Across the planet, the world responded with compassionate familiarity--as if the tragedy had stripped "America" of its symbolism and allowed the world to see New Yorkers freshly, as human beings. Part of the horror of the act was the recognition that the terrorists who perpetrated it could not see the humanity of their targets, in this way losing their own humanity. But in those 48 hours following the attacks, the world was ripe with possibility: it was a rare--almost unique--moment to forge connections based on that compassionate familiarity.

Instead, we chose the opposite tack. Within days, Bush had begun to use the language of "evil."

But our responsibility to history is already clear: to answer these attacks and rid the world of evil. War has been waged against us by stealth and deceit and murder.

For weeks he used this language, constantly dehumanizing "evildoers"--a word he used 181 times before delivering his famous "axis of evil" State of the Union speech. It was a virtuoso example of how to poison minds against an objectified "other." When Bush proposed, a year later, the invasion of Iraq--a country with absolutely no link to 9/11--the stage was set. Not thinking of Iraqis as humans or what the actual cost to them would be, a large majority of Americans supported the invasion.

Measured in bomb blasts, five years is a long time. The logic of violence Bush offered in 2002 now seems fatally flawed. Why did it seem so plausible that invading Iraq would bring security to the US that might prevent a future 9/11? Instead, our friends--in and outside the Middle East--are few. Al Qaida is re-established in Pakistan, Iraq boils with the fire of IEDs, and Israel and Lebanon have been to war. The promise of peace seems at best the embarrassingly naive whimsy of a superpower with too many bombs for its own good.

Violence is still an alluring prospect for many foreign policy thinkers. It is widely regarded as the "realist" position. Even now, as Democrats sprint from Iraq, most politicians do their best to cultivate a "muscular" self-image. Iraq was a debacle, but the logic of violence remains strangely intact. However, for my part, recalling 9/11 and looking at the past five years of violent experimentation, the only lesson I see is in the failure of violence.

If we want a future of relative safety and stability across the globe, it will not be delivered by shock and awe. Dehumanizing other people creates a cycle that continues to play out, over and over. The real future is in our interconnectivity, cultivating a sense of compassionate familiarity and building a sound foreign policy on engagement. I don't expect this to be the lesson America takes away from 9/11, but on this fifth anniversary, anyway, I'd like to imagine it as a possibility.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

[Rhetoric, Elections 2006]

Bush Invoking the Nazis

Give the Bush
administration credit--they know how to use language. As I mentioned in earlier posts, they managed to establish a connection between al Qaida and Iraq through suggestion--so effectively, in fact, that 43% of Americans still believe Saddam was personally involved with the 9/11 bombings. Since we have seen election season rhetoric ramping up again, I thought I'd take a trip down memory lane and see how the administration used WWII to clothe itself in moral clarity and virtue while arguing for (and later justifying) its absurd Iraq invasion.

Here's a pulpy example from March, when Bush indulged in an eye-roller while speaking at Freedom House. He explained that his administration would not abandon Iraqis, "because we've seen freedom overcome the darkness of tyranny and terror and secure the peace before."
"In 1941, the year the Freedom House began its work, the future of freedom seemed bleak. There were about a dozen lonely democracies in the world. The Soviet Union was led by the tyrant Stalin who massacred millions. Hitler was leading Nazi Germany in a campaign to dominate Europe and eliminate the Jewish people from the face of the Earth. An imperial Japan launched a brutal surprise attack on America. Today, six decades later, the Soviet empire is no more; Germany and Japan are free nations, and they are allies in the cause of peace; and the majority of the world's governments are democracies."
You see? Freeing the Iraqis from Saddam's tyranny is no different than freeing European Jews from Hitler's cold scythe.

Much the same of this comment, following the London bombings in July 2005. "Like fascism and communism," the Middle East contends with a "hateful ideology," Bush said, adding:
"This week there's great suffering in the city of London, but Londoners are resilient. They have faced brutal enemies before. A city that survived the Nazi blitz will not yield in the face of thugs and assassins. And just as America and Great Britain stood together to defeat the totalitarian ideologies of the 20th century, we now stand together against the murderous ideologies of the 21st century."
Never is there a situation too grave for Bush to exploit. (How much terrorism looks like fascism and communism--or how much fascism looks like communism, or al Qaida terrorism like the Iraqi civil war--is another question Bush choose to breeze by.)

Here, speaking in June to graduates of the Merchant Marines, Bush personalizes his analogy:
"'Deeds, Not Words' was the hallmark of this Academy in World War II. In the early years of the war, America's efforts to supply our allies in Europe were threatened by the U-boats that were sinking American ships faster than we could build them. The need to arm and defend our merchant ships was urgent, and King Pointers answered the call. One of them was an 18-year-old named Edwin O'Hara, whose statue stands not far from here. In September 1942, Cadet O'Hara was serving on the USS Stephen Hopkins when it came under attack from two Nazi raiders. After the entire gun crew of the Hopkins was killed by enemy fire, O'Hara singlehandedly served and fired the last five shells in the ready box, scoring direct hits on the German warship Stier. Cadet O'Hara was mortally wounded in the action, but not before he helped send the Stier to the bottom of the South Atlantic."
This is relevant, of course, because--wait for it--
"'Deeds, Not Words' was your response on the morning of September the 11th, 2001. From this campus, every man and woman could see the black smoke rising from the Twin Towers. Within hours, your midshipmen were working side-by-side with the Coast Guard and marine division of the New York City Fire Department.
Two years ago, ramping up for another election, Bush linked Iraq with postwar Germany:
"And no matter what the terrorists plan, no matter what they attempt, a democratic, free Iraq is on the way. At the same time, our coalition is helping the Iraqi people to rebuild the basic infrastructure of their country. This is work that America has done before. I want you to remember this. In 1947, two years after the Nazi surrender, there was still starvation in Germany. Reconstruction seemed to be faltering. The Marshall Plan had not yet begun. Soon Berlin would be blockaded, on the orders of Joseph Stalin. Some questioned whether a free and stable Germany could emerge from the rubble."
But I think my favorite comes from a speech he gave in May 2005 in Latvia. He was really feeling it, the certainty of his mission in Iraq personified by Latvians smiling back the promise of freedom and democracy.
"The Nazi terror is remembered today in places like Auschwitz, Dachau, Rumbula Forest, where we still hear the cries of the innocent, and pledge to God and history: Never again. The alliance that won the war is remembered today in carefully tended cemeteries in Normandy, Margraten, St. Petersburg, and other places across Europe, where we recall brief lives of great honor, and we offer this pledge: We will always be grateful."
(You hear in this Bush's speculation about his own place in history--having delivered unto the violent Mussalmen a lasting, peace, his memory will be celebrated in carefully-tended, gardenlike cemetaries of Baghdad.) Later in the speech, he started bringing it home:
"As in other parts of the world, successful democracies in the broader Middle East must also bridge old racial and religious divides -- and democracy is the only force capable of doing so. In Iraq, the new Cabinet includes members of all of Iraq's leading ethnic and religious groups, who, despite their differences, share a commitment to democracy, freedom, and the rule of law....

"In the Middle East, we are seeing the rule of law -- the rule of fear give way to the hope of change. And brave reformers in that region deserve more than our praise. The established democracies have a duty to help emerging democracies of the broader Middle East."
You can just see, one imagines Bush thinking as he read the speech, the garden of democracy flowering in places like Beirut.

He continued,
"Now, ladies and gentlemen, the freedom of Europe, won by courage, must be secured by effort and goodwill. In our time, as well, we must raise our sights. In the distance we can see another great goal -- not merely the absence of tyranny on this continent, but the end of tyranny in our world. Once again, we're asked to hold firm to our principles, and to value the liberty of others. And once again, if we do our part, freedom will prevail. Thank you, and God bless."
Amen, brother George, amen.

Friday, September 08, 2006

[Politics of Fear]


Needs no analysis.

click to enlarge

Thursday, September 07, 2006

[Election 2006]

Faith Restored.

Looking for a little something to bouy my spirits, I ran across this nice Olbermann piece on Katherine Harris following the Florida primary.


Dems Doomed in Fall.

What is the likelihood of a Democratic victory in November? In the House, Senate, both--however lucky you're feeling. All the numbers say it's a gimme. Right track/wrong track numbers boggle the mind (28% to 64%). Fifty-eight percent now oppose the Iraq war about which the President is so proud. It's a classic sixth-year election, sayeth the poly sci profs, in which groaning boredom of the incumbent President leads voters to throw out the ruling bums. The number of "battleground" races continues to grow, and the number swinging left make a House win look like a done deal. Charlie Cook says it is so.

Pah! I say.

The GOP are the most viscious of street fighters, and they are playing the game of outsized negativity. You got your fear (documented below), you got your covert racism (see debate, immigration), and you got your name calling ("sure we're incompetent, but you don't change horses midstream and hand the reigns to crack-addicted pedophiles. That's what Democrats are, as you know, crack-addicted peodphiles with your tax dollars.").

Reasonable people, like my co-worker, who earlier today made this argument, believe that the GOP is so incompetent, so evil, and so obvious that it will backfire this year for sure. Hell, even Southerners are beginning to pull their support!

This may be true, but it was true in 2004, 2002, and even, to a lesser extent, in 2000, and the dull-witted, fear-addled voters still voted GOP. They are, if anything, more dull-witted now, and this is why I believe the GOP will retain the House and Senate. My evidence?
Asked whether former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was personally involved in the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, 52 percent said he was not, but 43 percent said they believe he was.
I've seen this movie before and I know how it ends. Give me a call on the 9th and we'll go cry in our beers. First round's on me.
[Election 2006, Foreign Policy]

Stockholming Voters.

Three fascinating developments had me pondering Bush's angle for the upcoming election. (Fascinating, horrifying, one of these.) First, the developments:
  • "President Bush said Wednesday that 14 high-profile terror suspects held secretly until now by the Central Intelligence Agency — including the man accused of masterminding the Sept. 11 attacks — had been transferred to the detention center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, to face military tribunals if Congress approves." [Times]
  • "Pentagon officials yesterday repudiated the harsh interrogation tactics adopted since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, specifically forbidding U.S. troops from using forced nudity, hooding, military dogs and waterboarding to elicit information from detainees captured in ongoing wars." [Post]
  • "President Bush urged Congress today to pass legislation that would give his administration the surveillance tools he said it needed to fight terrorism in a speech just days before the fifth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks." [Times]
So, within a week we have the administration ratcheting up its rhetoric to compare Dems to Nazi appeasers, the confirmation of foreign "black sites," and a new kinder, gentler (and Geneva Convention-observing) interrogation protocol, with bonus powers to sneak peaks at US citizens. Allow me to read the tea leaves.

On the down (poll numbers) side, Bush is incompetent and thuggish, and this embarrasses voters. On the upside, he's thuggish and macho, and this soothes voters in the face of cavilling Dems, whom they fearfully believe drink beers with al Qaida after hours. So Bush and Rove have put together the perfect combination of compassionate tyranny--play on the fear of voters while giving them a little something in return.

It actually reminds me of something. Oh yeah, that's right, the Stockholm Syndrome--the favored tactic of abusers to keep people in line.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

[Politics of Fear]

Nazis on the March ... Must be Election Time

I realize there's not a lot to say about an administration that, at precise biennial moments (even-numbered years, September), employs the fear of terrorism to scare a population into voting a particular way. Or even that the fear they peddle isn't of the terrorists themselves, but their domestic political rivals.

I guess all we can do is document it and suggest a revision to Godwin's Law: "As an election approaches, the probability of a comparison by the GOP involving Nazis or Hitler to the Democratic Party approaches one."

So here we go. Bush, yesterday:
"History teaches that underestimating the words of evil and ambitious men is a terrible mistake.... In the 1920s, a failed Austrian painter published a book in which he explained his intention to build an Aryan super-state in Germany and take revenge on Europe and eradicate the Jews. The world ignored Hitler's words, and paid a terrible price. His Nazi regime killed millions in the gas chambers, and set the world aflame in war, before it was finally defeated at a terrible cost in lives. Bin Laden and his terrorist allies have made their intentions as clear as Lenin and Hitler before them. The question is: Will we listen?"
Don Rumsfeld, last week:

"It was a time when a certain amount of cynicism and moral confusion set in among Western democracies. When those who warned about a coming crisis, the rise of fascism and Nazism, they were ridiculed or ignored. Indeed, in the decades before World War II, a great many argued that the fascist threat was exaggerated.... With the growing lethality and the increasing availability of weapons, can we truly afford to believe that somehow, some way, vicious extremists can be appeased?"

Dick Cheney, August 28th:
If I may quote Franklin Roosevelt, the President under who many of you served and fought, in words he used to describe fighting the Nazis: "Modern warfare against treacherous enemies," he said, "is a dirty business. We don't like it -- we didn't want to get in it -- but we are in it and we're going to fight it with everything we've got."
Run, run, the Democrats are coming!

Taxes and Growth: No Correlation

Stats for the wonks: tax burden and economic growth. About it All links to a Census report showing the per capita tax burden by state for 2005. I dug around and found a Bureau of Economic Analysis report for 2004 (.pdf) that shows percentage growth in the gross state product. Liberals and conservatives both think these should have a relationship, right? Well, let's see. (I actually went back to the 2004 Census, so we'd have comparable data.)

Let's look at the top five highest taxing states and the percentage growth in that state's GSP over 2003.
1. Hawaii - 6.0%
2. Wyoming - 3.3%
3. Connecticut - 4.5%
4. Minnesota - 3.9%
5. Delaware - 5.0%
Bottom five (lowest taxes)
46. Alabama - 4.3%
47. New Hampshire - 5.4%
48. Colorado - 3.9%
49. South Dakota - 4.5%
50. Texas - 4.6%
If you eyeball those two lists, you might think they look about the same. In fact, if you total the percentages, you find they're exactly the same. So not a lot of correlation there. If you flip the calculation, and look at the states with the largest and smallest growth, you find a pretty similar story--some fast growing states have low taxes, others high. Some anemically-growing states have high taxes, some low.

I suspect you might begin to find trends if you look at aggregates for several years, but I'll leave that exercise for someone else.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006


The CBS Transition

I recognize the switch from old Bob to young Katie rates about 1.3 on the richter scale of importance, and yet I am drawn to the drama. The WaPo has a clip of her first thirty seconds here (Youtube to come), and it was dramatically different from the old boys' club of TV anchormen. After opening with a slightly awkward intro with her standing next to a giant screen, she opened in a very soft, daytime kind of way:
"Hi everyone, I'm very happy to be with you tonight. For many Americans today, it was back to work and back to school, but in the war on terror, you have to wonder--is it back to the drawing board? It's easy to forget that Afghanistan was where that war began..."
The station bid adieu to Bob Schieffer last friday, and it was a preview of coming Couric attractions. I'll post that clip and then try to restrain myself from further analysis.



My life continues to be fantastically busy, and I'll be leaving the country for three weeks in November, but I guess since summer's over, we'll call this a return. I found the interns on the doorstep this morning, and I didn't have the heart to turn them away. (There is free beer, too, so that perked them right up.)

I suspect Hog is going to limp along through the end of the year as a rather irregular blog, but I can neither make it a smash success nor abandon it. (Or the interns.) So, as always, we follow the great man's life-rattle:
Hog can't go on, it will go on.
Good to be back.
[Labor Day]

The Ownership Society (Revised)

I don't mean to make Hog a mirror site for BlueOregon, but there are posts I feel must be brought over. This is one.

When you're within spitting distance of your 40th year, a few things become clear. In my own case, barring a terrible catastrophe at the Rose Garden, the likelihood of me playing point for the Blazers has passed. I'm also thinking it's now a longshot I'll win that Yale poets-under-40 prize. (I'm old enough to run for President, though, so I got that goin' for me.) Finally, I am never going to have the kind of money so that my income will come from capital gains. In terms of ownership, I'm a paycheck man.

This is not exactly what the GOP means when it promotes "the ownership society." Although it's cleverly packaged to emphasize freedom and controll ("In the ownership society, patients control their own health care, parents control their own children's education, and workers control their retirement savings"), what what the ownership society mainly liberates is the very wealthy from their obligation of contributing to the federal tax base.

If you're extremely wealthy, health care is cheaper than income tax. Since capital continues to generate wealth whether you're employed or retired, those with ample stores would prefer not to chip into Social Security--they've already got theirs. Education is likewise for the masses, not for the wealthy whose kids already attend Choate. Why pay twice for an education?

If this sounds like class warfare, it is. Best get used to it and the fact that, unless you're perusing that Choate brochures, you're probably getting jobbed by the "ownership society." Working stiffs own one thing--their paycheck--and we've done a rotten job protecting it.

Median_1 Since the grand Republican revolution, median incomes have stagnated while the wealthy have seized a greater proportion of the US lucre. You know the stats: since 2001, when the GOP really consolidated power, the median income has fallen. The top 20% of American families now own over 50% of the wealth--a record.

Meanwhile, because the radicalized government has made privatization a fetish, there have been no investment in, in in some cases defunding of, public and higher ed, medical care, defined benefit pensions, and so on. The median household that in the 70s received health care from work, put their kids through school--the good old days before fees, when your daughter might have studied viola--and looked forward to decent Social Secuity benefits to augment their pension, now has to buy all of it on their own. On the same salary.

The rich own half the wealth and we own bills. Nice system if you're in the top 20%.

On this day after labor day, I think it's time to join the class war. It's time for average workers to stake their claims. We need to go back to a time when we collectivized risk and demand that our federal dollars support things we actually own, not the Wall Street and real estate speculation of the ultra-rich:

  • Health care. Should be a right of every citizen, and every citizen should have to pay into the system to support it. Far from bankrupting the country, it will save us money, costing only the private health providers and insurers who are making windfall profits.
  • Public education. Public schools should always be funded first, at an adequate level, before any funds flow to private educators.
  • Minimum wage. No family in America should work full time and not be able to feed their family. (This isn't as pressing an issue in Oregon.)
  • Higher education. The surest way to get ahead is an education. That is currently becoming the domain of the upper classes, and the federal government is defunding public assistance to students.
  • Defined benefit Social Security. Dubya would love to turn Social Security into a vast 401 (k) scheme where citizens would lose the assurance of a regular check for the risk of regular investments into a system that may be bankrupt when we retire. This is an egregious attack on the poor and middle class--and worse, on the elderly who are least able to absorb the shock of poverty.
  • Bankruptcy protection. Given all the burdens placed on citizens by the plutocrats in power, it is plainly immoral to remove bankruptcy as a last-resort method of escaping debt, as the GOP did a couple years ago.

These are bare minimums. We could add child care and transportation to the list, but you get the idea. Thanks to a generation of GOP rule, we have begun to think of these things as frilly extras in a life of Darwinian survival. It doesn't need to be that way, and the only thing stopping a return to sanity is accepting the "ownership society" as responsible governance.